NFL mock draft 2018: Jets' trade ramps up QB bidding war in first round
With little more than a month remaining until the first pick, the NFL draft remains in flux.
The New York Jets' trade with Indianapolis for the No. 3 pick (in exchange for the sixth selection and three second rounders) was a harbinger of a potential bidding war for quarterbacks. Even if the deal doesn't precipitate another major move, it is indicative of the mindset many teams might employ now that the initial wave of free agency has defined their most glaring needs.
1. Browns — Sam Darnold, QB, USC: Don't be swayed by Hue Jackson's declaration that Tyrod Taylor is his 2018 starter. In reality, the ex-Bills passer is at best a bridge and shouldn't dissuade the team from taking a quarterback here. While Saquon Barkley should warrant serious consideration, waiting to take a franchise QB until the fourth pick (or later) is a dangerous game given how many other clubs look ready to pounce. With Darnold, Cleveland could finally secure its long-needed centerpiece.
2. Giants — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: The Jets' trade set the G-Men up to take home a potential king's ransom if they can find their own QB-hungry trade partner. But if Barkley's on the board, this might be a no-brainer for new GM Dave Gettleman. Barkley is poised to become the highest running back drafted since Reggie Bush went No. 2 in 2006, and with good reason. Capable of reshaping an offense, the do-everything back might be just what first-year coach Pat Shurmur needs to launch his attack. Yet if Darnold is available, New York needs to at least listen to trade offers — as well as consider taking him as Eli Manning's potential successor.
3. Jets (from Colts) — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: GM Mike Maccagnan swung the deal to move up after attending pro days for Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen, but the timing likely isn't indicative of his intent. Though taking Allen might be seen as Maccagnan failing to learn from the Christian Hackenberg debacle, the raw but strong-armed passer would represent the high-upside investment of the trade. Allen still needs to sort out accuracy, touch and decision-making issues that limited him to a 56% completion rate in college, but he could sit behind Josh McCown or Teddy Bridgewater as he develops.
4. Browns (from Texans) — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State: An all-QB top three might be the Browns' dream, as it would pave the way for them to grab the signal-caller of their choice and then get Barkley here. In lieu of that, a defensive prospect seems like the natural fit at this slot. A true No. 1 outside corner is Cleveland's top need, and homegrown Ward might be best equipped to address that role. His all-around athleticism and ball skills would immediately boost a defense that was systematically sliced for a league-worst 68.6% completion rate and recorded just seven interceptions.
5. Broncos — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: John Elway touted new signee Case Keenum as "our guy" last week, but that didn't stop him from delaying the veteran's introduction while he and the rest of Denver's cavalry attended pro days for Mayfield and Rosen. Even with Keenum on board, Elway looks poised to make good on his combine pledge to keep swinging at the position. Rosen is the most polished and technically sound of this year's passers and could finally break Denver's cycle of uncertainty behind center.
6. Colts (from Jets) — Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State: Trading back three spots telegraphed GM Chris Ballard's commitment to taking a long-term approach to Indianapolis' rebuild after spending free agency mostly on the sidelines. Chubb is the pre-eminent pass rusher in this class and would lift a defense that ranked 31st with just 25 sacks last season.
7. Buccaneers — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama: Tampa Bay's defense is still short on pass rushing talent even after adding DE Vinny Curry, but a shortage of options beyond Chubb might make the Buccaneers look to their secondary instead. Though Fitzpatrick likely will play primarily at safety, he's a versatile piece who could also be utilized in the slot or to match up with tight ends.
8. Bears — Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame: Chicago's offseason has been all about aiding second-year QB Mitchell Trubisky, with WRs Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel and TE Trey Burton providing a much-improved arsenal of targets. Nelson would continue that theme. He could open big holes for RBs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen as a replacement for Josh Sitton.
9. 49ers — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia: Still in need of a talent upgrade at almost every level, San Francisco's defense could also use someone to set the right example for a young unit. Smith's leadership would provide the right tone, though his greatest immediate value would be his relentless style and range against the pass and run.
10. Raiders — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech: The 6-5, 253-pounder is the kind of singular physical prospect that Al Davis would have coveted. Oakland needs all the defensive help it can find, and Edmunds brings a rare physical makeup, albeit one kept in check by instincts that are still under development.
11. Dolphins — Vita Vea, DT, Washington: The release of Ndamukong Suh leaves a massive hole in the middle of Miami's defense. Enter Vea, a 6-4, 347-pound punisher who will command double teams and stonewall opposing running backs.
12. Bills (from Bengals) — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: GM Brandon Beane claimed Buffalo might not move up farther or draft a quarterback despite trading up to No. 12, but it feels as though he's bluffing with his cards facing outward to the rest of the table. Even if the Jets' jump has made such a maneuver more difficult, the Bills look like a team ready to make a similar all-in push for a passer — especially if it becomes apparent Mayfield won't last this long. Buffalo badly needs someone to create for an attack lacking weapons outside of aging RB LeSean McCoy.
13. Redskins — Derwin James, S, Florida State: He predicted at the combine that some team will take him in the top 10 and might not be off base. Washington would be wise to scoop up the versatile defensive back if he lasts this long as James boasts impressively well-rounded athleticism befitting his outsized swagger.
14. Packers — Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida: An unsuccessful bid to pry Kyle Fuller from the rival Bears highlighted Green Bay's desire to repair a precarious outlook at cornerback. At 5-11, 191, Hughes just barely clears the minimum size requirements the Packers have typically demanded at the position, but he thrives with a physical approach.
15. Cardinals — Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: Signing QBs Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon makes for a tenuous outlook in Arizona. While Jackson might need time to address his erratic ball placement, the long-term payoff of a backfield featuring the Heisman Trophy winner and David Johnson might be too tantalizing to pass up.
16. Ravens — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama: Michael Crabtree's signing aside, Baltimore's receiving corps is still in shambles. Ridley would provide QB Joe Flacco an immediate deep threat who's also capable of creating separation with his fine-tuned route running.
17. Chargers — Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama: The Bolts largely stood pat in free agency, which spells trouble for a run defense that gave up a league-worst 4.9 yards a carry last season. Payne creates a serious push in the middle and would be an upgrade over DT Brandon Mebane, who's in decline.
18. Seahawks — Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio: Pete Carroll's defense is officially in rebuild mode after casting off CB Richard Sherman and DE Michael Bennett. Davenport (6-6, 264 pounds) offers long-term upside for a D-line that also lost Sheldon Richardson.
19. Cowboys — DJ Moore, WR, Maryland: A failed pursuit of Sammy Watkins, per multiple reports, reflects an uneasiness with Dak Prescott's weapons — though it seems WR Dez Bryant will return. A dynamic threat after the catch, Moore could make life easier for the third-year quarterback as a trusted short-area target.
20. Lions — Taven Bryan, DT, Florida: Matt Patricia knows the pains of trying to cobble together a pass rush after his last two years with the Patriots, and DE Ziggy Ansah alone won't suffice in Detroit. Bryan can create havoc all along the line, though he's still learning to tap into his considerable athletic gifts.
21. Bengals (from Bills) — Will Hernandez, G, Texas-El Paso: Cincinnati seems intent on kick-starting the running game for Joe Mixon. Hernandez (6-2, 348) is one of the draft's best at opening holes.
22. Bills (from Chiefs) — Connor Williams, OT, Texas: Losing T Cordy Glenn and C Eric Wood leaves plenty of uncertainty up front for Buffalo. Williams could either step in at left tackle or kick inside to guard.
23. Rams — Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State: GM Les Snead hasn't been shy in remaking his defense, orchestrating four trades to bring on two starters and send out two more. A replacement is still needed for LB Alec Ogletree, however, and the rangy and athletic Vander Esch could ably step into that role.
24. Panthers — Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville: Bashaud Breeland's failed physical leaves Carolina with a vacancy at corner opposite starter James Bradberry. After showing his quick-twitch ability and impressive ball skills at the scouting combine, Alexander's stock is ticking up.
25. Titans — Harold Landry, OLB/DE, Boston College: Despite tying for fifth last season with 43 sacks, Tennessee's pass rush is middling at best off the edge. That won't stand for new coach Mike Vrabel, especially after Tennessee's concerted effort to improve the 25th-ranked pass defense by adding CB Malcolm Butler. Landry can bend with the best of them and would increase flexibility with incumbent OLBs Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan entering contract years.
26. Falcons — Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford: With Dontari Poe off to Carolina, DL Grady Jarrett could use a hammer next to him inside. The hard-nosed Phillips can utilize his wrestling background to clog lanes and keep an emerging group of linebackers clean.
27. Saints — Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State: Drew Brees is back, but there will be no reunion with Jimmy Graham after the former Saints standout signed with the Packers. Though Gesicki might be seen as somewhat of a luxury pick, the former volleyball and basketball standout's prowess on jump balls could help solve the third-down woes that occasionally kept the offense in check last season.
28. Steelers — Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama: Ryan Shazier has already been ruled out for next season, leaving a hole in the middle of Pittsburgh's defense. Evans has demonstrated sideline-to-sideline ability both in coverage and as a tackler and would also bring value as a blitzer.
29. Jaguars — Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M: Marqise Lee was re-signed, and Donte Moncrief was added. Still, Jacksonville's receiving corps is somewhat of a hodgepodge after Allen Robinson's exit. Kirk (5-10, 200) would give QB Blake Bortles a stout, reliable target capable of consistently breaking big gains, especially in play action.
30. Vikings — James Daniels, C/G, Iowa: After landing QB Kirk Cousins and DL Sheldon Richardson, Minnesota doesn't have many weak points. Daniels, however, would help solidify an interior line that still looks shaky.
31. Patriots — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame: Most of New England's free agency departures might have been expected, but LT Nate Solder signing with the Giants leaves a worrisome hole. McGlinchey could step in as the replacement.
32. Eagles — Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa: With its core maintained after free agency, Philadelphia has flexibility in the draft. Jackson is a ball hawk (eight interceptions in 2017) who would help a so-so secondary.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz