1. Cleveland Browns select Sam Darnold, QB, USC
It’s likely the Cleveland Browns will yet again have a top pick in next year’s NFL draft. And, yet again, they’ll likely have their choice of top passers in the class. Whether or not the front office or coaching staff is re-done, it would be hard to imagine the team doing anything but picking a quarterback first overall. Sam Darnold may or may not declare, but he’s the consensus top quarterback (and de facto top player) in this year’s class. If the Browns do pick Darnold in the first round, they’ll have players selected in the past three seasons from the first, second, and third rounds in their quarterback room. If at first you don’t succeed...
2. San Francisco 49ers select Bradley Chubb, Edge, NC State
Coming into the season, coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch may have evoked the Joker’s infamous line from The Dark Knight, “we’re going to have… tryouts.” And tryouts they’ve had. The 49ers’ shell of a roster was never going to amount to much this season, but they’ve established a quarterback trading for Jimmy Garoppolo. If the 49ers do have one potential strength, it’s on the defensive line where they’ve invested heavily over the past three seasons. Bradley Chubb has elevated his game to the point of blue-chip quality pass rusher. Pairing him with Armstead, Buckner, and Thomas may pay Jaguar-like dividends in the near future.
3. New York Giants select Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
It’s hard now to imagine the pre-season think pieces about the New York Giants being poised for a Tom Coughlin era Super Bowl run. It seems it’s been an entire season since Odell Beckham was last seen and Brandon Marshall even being on the team is trending toward bar trivia night territory. Still, few would be surprised to see the Giants again reclaim the title of “sneaky Super Bowl pick” considering the talent on the roster. Pairing the hyper dynamic Saquon Barkley with the equally explosive Odell Beckham would quickly bring the Giants back into the championship conversation.
4. Denver Broncos select Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame
Almost speaking as if he didn’t put the team together himself, John Elway has criticized the makeup of the Denver Broncos as being “soft”. No quicker can a team cure “softness” than drafting a revered offensive lineman in the top 5; a placement normally reserved for more glamorous positions. Quenton Nelson has received the type of effusive praise in college that would make Zach Martin and Brandon Scherff blush.
5. Indianapolis Colts select Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
Like a rudderless ghost ship devoid of cast and crew, the Indianapolis Colts solemnly drift through their schedule while they wait for Andrew Luck’s return from Davey Jones’ Locker. Still, the Colts do have some close losses to hang their hats on (a tale tell sign of a good bad team). The defensive depth chart improved with savvy free agent acquisitions by general manager Chris “Bull Frog” Ballard, but it isn’t quite yet a serviceable unit. Pairing corner/safety Minkah Fitzpatrick with the promising Malik Hooker would be a nice start bolstering a meek back end.
6. Chicago Bears select Arden Key, Edge, LSU
Now far removed from a most predictable Mike Glennon disaster timeline, the Chicago Bears are surely trending upward during the early Mitch Trubisky era. If viable, the Bears would love to give their young passer some NFL caliber weapons to throw to, but anything except for a trade back projects as a major reach. Defensively, the team has been somewhat of a revelation. Arden Key seemingly has an on again off again relationship with football, but he’s a full time freak mirroring 2016 first round pick Leonard Floyd.
7. Los Angeles Chargers select Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Forever the paper champs and never the field champs, the Chargers again (but for the first time in Los Angeles) meander their way through the NFL landscape alternating between hot and cold. Few would admit it, but Philip Rivers has been a big part of the Chargers’ mercurialness. A new era might not start right away if the Chargers draft a quarterback, but Josh Rosen possesses the polish and experience to make a difference early if need be.
8. Cincinnati Bengals select Mike McGlinchey, OL, Notre Dame
The NFL is inherently hard to predict, but the Bengals’ skeleton of an offensive line could be seen from a mile away before the season started. It hasn’t been a season to remember for the top left tackle prospect coming into the season, but Mike McGlinchey still looks like the safest tackle coming into the draft.
9. Arizona Cardinals select Denzel Ward, DB, Ohio State
If Bruce Arians could, he’d draft whatever 34-year old was available in the draft. Unfortunately he’ll have to settle for a jitter-bug quick corner in Denzel Ward who might just give the team their best tandem since Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie circa 2014.
10. Oakland Raiders select Maurice Hurst, DL, Michigan
The magical 2016 Raiders campaign certainly felt like too much too soon for the much maligned franchise. The one thing that did transfer from their playoff season a year ago is an anemic pass rush which yet again ranks last in sacks. Michigan’s Maurice Hurst follows a recent trend of slightly undersized interior pass rushers with oversized quickness and strength.
11. Cleveland Browns (from Houston) select Derwin James, DB, Florida State
Now becoming a rite of passage for the Browns, a second pick in the top 15 gives the team more throws at the proverbial dart board. While not exactly the perfect compliment for last year’s last first rounder Jabrill Peppers, Derwin James is arguably the most talented defensive player in this year’s NFL draft.
12. New York Jets select Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Entering the season with a roster full of randomly generated football player names actually proved to be a depressingly winning move for the New York Jets. Yet, the still extremely [suspiciously] blonde 38-year old Josh McCown experience isn’t one the team is itching to hitch their wagons to. Baker Mayfield -- which does sound like a cookie company -- will give us a preview of his New York swag when he strolls into Times Square for the Heisman Trophy presentation predictably wearing a peacoat and skinny jeans.
13. Washington Redskins select Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Somewhere in a dimly lit basement, someone has pictures on their wall of Washington Redskins runningback trio of Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson, and Samaje Perine with thick black X’s on the former two. While the Redskins have had terrible “luck” (the quotation marks suggest foul play) with their runningbacks, none seem talented enough to miss dearly. Nick Chubb -- already a household name in sports medicine world -- is a supreme talent who combines the abilities of all three Redskins runningbacks into one explosive package.
14. Miami Dolphins select Clelin Ferrell, Edge, Clemson
Through all the profound change the Miami Dolphins seem to go through every season, Cameron Wake remains the one consistent piece. The Dolphins took Charles Harris in last year’s draft, but if Wake does either retire or get cut (he will be owed nearly $9 million in 2018 at 35 if he’s not) there isn’t much assurance on the opposite edge. Clelin Ferrell follows a long line of good but not great defensive end prospects from Clemson who, at the very least, gives the team a viable succession plan on the defensive line.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College
Few teams came into the season with the type of optimism circling them as did the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fast-forward to week 11 and the team is squarely off the rails. At least one obvious point of emphasis going into next year is fixing a nearly league worst pass rush. Like the Bucs, Harold Landry came into the season with high hopes only to have them derailed by injuries. When healthy, he can choo-choo to the quarterback with the best.
16. Dallas Cowboys select Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
The 2017 Cowboys are a case-and-point in how injuries and/or suspensions can quickly expose a team’s weaknesses. With both Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith out, the Cowboys are a shell of their former predictably reliable selves. Giving the team another top level target for Dak to throw to not named Dez Bryant would immediately add much needed diversity to the offense.
17. Buffalo Bills select select Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson
With the Buffalo Bills begrudgingly sending Tyrod Taylor back to the starting lineup in week 11 after the appropriately named Nate Peterman failed to cash in on the pro-style narrative during his draft rise, it would easy to shoehorn [insert quarterback name here] at this spot. But, with no strong candidate for the Bills to target this early in the draft, the team instead bolster an interior defensive line expected to lose long-time veteran Kyle Williams this offseason.
18. Green Bay Packers select Dallas Goedert, TE, SDSU
Unlike other teams who lost a quarterback starter in 2017, the transition from Aaron Rodgers to Brett Hundley has been particularly stark as the offense lacks the so common explosiveness expected from the group. Given Rodgers’ increased propensity to miss time, it would be prudent for the team to make the job easier (even if it should be already) for any prospective backup. Dallas Goedert has the makings of an elite level tight end which often elevate offenses from merely good to nightmarish for opposing defenses in the NFL.
19. Seattle Seahawks select Orlando Brown Jr., OL, Oklahoma
Seattle finally caved in improving their offensive line right before the NFL trade deadline when they acquired Duane Brown from the Houston Texans. There’s still much work to be done repairing the leaky Seattle levies but this season has shown they’re willing to address the position with more than glancing improvements. Orlando Brown Jr. isn’t your typical fleet of foot tackle at 340 lbs., but he sure can move people. Whether at guard or on the edge, Brown should immediately find a place in the starting unit.
20. Detroit Lions select Damien Harris, RB, Alabama
In a rare healthy year, the Detroit Lions have cashed in on their team’s collective ability to stay on the field and played themselves into likely playoff berth-hood. Offensively, the team is closer to completion and the missing link is obvious: runningback. Damien Harris follows a long time of “college good” runners, but might have the purest NFL skillset since Mark Ingram.
21. Baltimore Ravens select Connor Williams, OL, Texas
It’s not quite 2002 again, but the Baltimore Ravens defense has picked this team up and carried it to a surprising 5-5 record. Offensively, ineptitude has been the modus operandi, but the team makes few enough mistakes to not bury themselves like other bad offenses have. Protecting Joe Flacco needs to be the focus going forward because, even if he never truly returns to form, he’s owed a stone cold $51 million over the next two seasons.
22. Tennessee Titans select Ronnie Harrison, DB, Alabama
In a year when the AFC seems like the NFL’s JV league, the Tennessee Titans find themselves in good position for playoff contention. Though the roster is well made with few glaring needs, there are few playmakers for the team to count on in big moments against better teams. Alabama strong safety Ronnie Harrison is a jack-of-many trades secondary player who is good for making plays in whatever form they may come.
23. Atlanta Falcons select James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Atlanta’s Monday Night performance against the Seahawks reminded many how this team cruised to the Super Bowl and nearly won it just a season ago. With so few real needs, the Falcons can focus on adding heated cup-holders or a pop-up hood ornament to their already luxurious roster. With Taylor Gabriel poised to enter free agency, a new deep threat might be a just right move late in the first round. James Washington thrived catching the deep ball for Oklahoma State and he could do just that for Atlanta while evolving is overall game behind Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy.
24. Los Angeles Rams select Isaiah Oliver, DB, Colorado
Life is good for the surprise NFC darling Los Angeles Rams. Jared Goff looks like an actual professional quarterback and the offensive roster went from zero to hero with a handful of savvy adds. Defensively, the team might be looking at a thin unit going into next year given possible departing free agents Trumaine Johnson and LaMarcus Joyner. Colorado has become a cornerback factory lately and Isaiah Oliver follows the university’s recent lineage of lean, long, and capable athletes.
25. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City) select Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Scoring a bonus pick through last year’s draft, the Bills can now safely select their [insert quarterback name here]. In this case, that quarterback’s name is Josh Allen. While Allen is certainly not the prospect many thought he was last year, he is tall, mobile, as possesses an arm which might already be near the top of the league.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars select Will Hernandez, OL, UTEP
Few would have predicted Jacksonville picking this late in the draft this late in the season. With a combination of elite defense and a formidable running game, the Jaguars have cobbled together a legitimate formula for being a good team, even in 2017. There’s still clearly work to be done on offense and the digging should start on the line. Will Hernandez might be every bit the guard Quenton Nelson is, but his smaller school status may push him further down the draft than he should go.
27. Carolina Panthers select Martinas Rankin, OL, Mississippi State
Even though the Panthers swore by a brand new offensive philosophy in 2017, it has been business as usual for this Cam Newton led team during the second half of the season. If the personnel staff is finally willing to let Newton play to his strengths, it would be best to prevent him from taking unnecessary hits. The reclamation of Matt Kalil at left tackle hasn’t gone well. Adding the younger and more nimble footed Marinas Rankin would be a wise move going forward.
28. Minnesota Vikings select Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
After Sam Bradford played the game of his life in week one and immediately suffered what ended up being a season ending injury, few thought the Vikings would find themselves in the position they’re in this late in the season. With both the offense and defense clicking nearly on all cylinders, the Vikings can focus their draft needs on building on a strength. Georgia’s Roquan Smith isn’t the new-age sideline to sideline maestros the league has seen come through the draft in recent years, but he’s got the instinct and experience to thump the line early in his career.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers select Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
After the Steelers have sorted Ben Roethlisberger’s now yearly "will he won’t he?" routine once the season ends, the team can focus on keeping a steely eyed focus on continuing to build through the draft. Whether or not he’s being thrown to by Roethlisberger next year, Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews would revitalize a position mostly dormant since the departure of Heath Evans.
30. New Orleans Saints select Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
With a confident and talented defense and lethal running game, this is no longer your sister’s boyfriend’s New Orleans Saints. The last remaining bastion of the seam splitting Super Bowl Saints on the roster is quarterback Drew Brees, who is still undeniably one of the best passers in the league. Still, at 38-years old and on an expiring contract, the reality that Brees won’t be a Saint for much longer feels more real than ever. Quarterback (and only quarterback) Lamar Jackson is a polarizing player with undeniable unique and explosive skill. Pairing his running ability with that of Ingram and Kamara is the stuff of nightmares for opposing defenses.
31. New England Patriots select Chukwuma Okorafor, OL, Western Michigan
With both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett on the roster, few teams had more assured succession plans than the New England Patriots coming into the season. Tom Brady may need to start grinding up more kale and soy beans, because it seems like he’ll need to keep himself young for another half decade. With Nate Solder up at the end of the year, a rookie solution might be less than ideal when preserving Brady’s body. Okorafor may not start right away, but ensuring Brady’s health on a semi-long term basis requires investment in talented young offensive linemen.
32. Philadelphia Eagles select Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
The Eagle’s stratospheric leap from last year to this one has in large part come from timely growth spurts with Carson Wentz and the defense. The team has also been very proactive in acquiring players through trades with the additions of Ronald Darby and Jay Ajayi. Adding big names also means big contracts, meaning some lesser names, like Nigel Bradham will likely go elsewhere. Taking Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans would adds a capable and experienced day one starter while maintaining the integrity of the defensive second level.