Now less than two weeks away from the NFL draft, a few things are coming into focus.
It’s clear that this selection process is going to be dominated by quarterback madness at the top. There are five-to-seven players who have the highest projections and seem locks to go in the first 10 picks, and there are 18-to-20 players truly worthy of a first-round grade. After that, evaluations tend to be all over the place, and the last 12 selections of the first round in particular could be filled with some twists and turns and players being called who weren’t found on a lot of mock drafts.
It’s still a little early in terms of being able to sort out the best information possible about which teams are truly leaning which way, but you do continue to hear the same names mentioned as the best of the best in this draft: Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson, Bradley Chubb, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Denzel Ward. The consensus I get from the evaluators I speak with is that those five are the best players in this draft overall, and if not for all of the extreme demand for passers, that is how picks 1-5 would likely play out in some order. Of course, that won’t be the case when next Thursday rolls around.
At this point I am going to operate on the assumption the Browns are taking Josh Allen first overall, and then project how I believe the rest of the first round might play out. Of course, if the Browns take Sam Darnold instead, well, this becomes a total and complete study in futility. But let me take a crack at it, anyway, and assess how the first 10 picks could unfold.
1. Cleveland Browns
JOSH ALLEN, QB, Wyoming. Huge arm. Huge upside. Some potentially big flaws as well. He fits John Dorsey’s M.O. when it comes to quarterbacks. He’s a kid you could see Dorsey’s mentor Ron Wolf taking. Wolf’s son, Eliot, now works for Dorsey. May not be the safest pick given the accuracy woes, but certainly has grand-slam potential.
2. Buffalo Bills (trade with Giants)
SAM DARNOLD, QB, USC. I just don’t see the Bills staying at 12 and I’m not convinced the Giants are taking a QB themselves, and while I don’t think New York GM Dave Gettleman wants to go all the way back to 12, maybe the Bills trade up twice and now Gettleman ends up with Denver’s original pick at 5. I’m even less convinced the Broncos really want to take a QB at 5, and I continue to hear they are open for business, so I’m going bold here with Bills GM Brandon Beane moving twice to get the second QB off the board.
3. New York Jets (from Indianapolis)
BAKER MAYFIELD, QB, Oklahoma. Everyone in the NFL knows the Jets are going QB, Mayfield’s production is off the charts and the Jets can handle his personality. It could actually end up playing really well in New York in a Broadway Joe kind of a way. If you love Russell Wilson and you were intrigued by Johnny Manziel’s athleticism and moxie and upside, then you could fall in love with this kid.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston)
BRADLEY CHUBB, DE, NC State. You could go running back here, for sure, and Dorsey very well might trade this pick as well. But the chance to put together young, cheap bookend pass rushers like Chubb and Myles Garrett in the end is much too delicious to resist. They’ve traded down enough in years past to get to this point.
5. New York Giants (trade with Bills via Broncos)
SAQUON BARKLEY, RB, Penn State. Gettleman gets the player he quite possibly would have taken at second overall a few slots down and picks up precious draft picks along the way. He badly needs to round out a roster that managed three wins a year ago.
6. Indianapolis Colts (from NY Jets)
DENZEL WARD, CB, Ohio State. Plenty of defensive players make sense here, and Nelson might end up being the best player in this entire draft. But a year after finding his ball-hawking safety in the first round, Chris Ballard pairs him with arguably the best corner in the draft as he tries to rebuild a longtime toothless defense.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
MINKAH FITZPATRICK, DB, Alabama. Tampa needs to get right on the back end and someone to take command of that secondary. Fitzpatrick could do it from multiple positions if need be, able to toggle between free safety and play the slot or outside corner if necessary, as well.
8. Chicago Bears
QUENTON NELSON, G, Notre Dame. Chicago will do back flips if he gets down this far. The Bears just hired his old position coach from Notre Dame, he fills immediate need and helps protect a very young and raw QB from Day One.
9. San Francisco 49ers
TREMAINE EDMUNDS, LB, Virginia Tech. This 19-year old has the potential to be an explosive factor. He could help fill an immediate need on the inside given Rueben Foster’s legal problems but also could be a difference-maker off the edge at the next level.
10. New England Patriots (trade with Raiders)
JOSH ROSEN, QB, UCLA. Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels get the potential heir apparent to Tom Brady and don’t have to move inside the top nine to do so. The price to land Mayfield in the top five is too steep, but Oakland is willing to move back after all the cream of the crop is gone and New England finds value with potentially the best QB in this draft at the 10th slot.
There you have it. Talk to me in a week and I might go in a complete different direction. Heck, talk to me in five hours and I might want to scrap it. But as food for thought, and with an emphasis on this being a draft where it might pay to expect the unexpected, I’ll let this ride. It would make for an entertaining first few hours of the draft, if nothing else.