Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Saquon Barkley and other prospects are expected to be top picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, which will be held April 26-28 in Arlington, Texas. But which teams will pick them? With the divisional round in the books, newsday.com NFL draft analyst Nick Klopsis makes his predictions.
1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
For the second straight year, the Browns find themselves picking first overall — and in need of a franchise quarterback. Yes, they drafted DeShone Kizer in the second round last year, but he was wholly unimpressive as a rookie, with a 56.3 completion percentage and a 1:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 15 starts. The silver lining is that new general manager John Dorsey has his pick of the top passers in a draft that looks to be deep at the position. Sam Darnold was only so-so in 2017 after a phenomenal freshman season, but he has the size, arm, pocket presence and toughness that teams want. He threw 13 interceptions this season, mostly a product of trusting his arm a bit too much and forcing unnecessary throws, but if he can fix that, he has the tools and the demeanor to be a quality NFL quarterback.
2. Giants: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The last time the Giants picked second overall was in 1981, when they took a future Hall of Famer in linebacker Lawrence Taylor. It seems like a near certainty that they’ll use the pick to address an offense that hasn’t scored 30 points in a game since Jan. 3, 2016. Picking this high means they have the chance to find their heir apparent to Eli Manning, whether or not he comes back for 2018. Josh Rosen could be a Week 1 starter thanks to his incredible arm — he can make any throw and make it look good. He also has a knack for pulling off comebacks (see his thriller against Texas A&M on Sept. 4), which may remind Giants fans of Eli. However, while Manning is more of a quiet leader, Rosen is very outspoken, sometimes brash, which has led to off-field questions. He also has a bit of an injury history — he underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder after six games in his sophomore season, and he missed UCLA’s bowl game in December with a concussion. Still, the arm talent is undeniable, and if the Giants are comfortable with his outsized persona, he could be the long-term answer.
3. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, Edge rusher, North Carolina State
Jacoby Brissett filled in capably for an injured Andrew Luck, but he had very little help from a defense that was third-worst in yards per game (5,873) and second-worst in sacks (25). They need someone opposite Jabaal Sheard, who led the team with 5 1⁄2 sacks. Bradley Chubb has good size at 6-4, 260 pounds, and he was a consistent producer for the Wolfpack with 20 sacks and 44 tackles for loss in the last two seasons. He could provide a much-needed boost of athleticism for the Colts’ struggling pass rush.
4. Browns (via Houston Texans): Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
After drafting their quarterback, the Browns keep bolstering the offense with arguably the most dynamic playmaker in this class. Saquon Barkley was an early Heisman favorite thanks to his complete skill set, but he faded after midseason struggles. The 5-11, 230-pounder has rare elusiveness and great speed, and he’s just as good running between the tackles as he is catching passes out of the backfield. Barkley’s a threat to take any touch to the house, and pairing him with Darnold could provide an immense boost to the Browns’ offense.
5. Denver Broncos: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Neither Trevor Siemian nor 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch appears to be the answer for the Broncos, so John Elway is going to have to find his quarterback of the future. Baker Mayfield has inserted himself into the top tier after a Heisman-winning season. Mayfield has the athleticism and playmaking ability to match his high-level production. He has drawn criticism for off-field antics — including a February arrest on charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, as well as an obscene gesture made toward the Kansas bench during a game Nov. 18 — and at 6-1, he’s on the short side for a quarterback. But teams have taken chances on shorter quarterbacks — Russell Wilson and Drew Brees, for instance — and if he can prove he has learned from his mistakes, he could make an NFL team very happy.
6. Jets: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The Jets’ search for a quarterback will continue — Josh McCown may have taken his last NFL snap, Bryce Petty has been below average in his spot starts and former second-rounder Christian Hackenberg has yet to take a regular-season snap in two pro seasons. Unless they trade up (they have an extra second-round pick thanks to the Sheldon Richardson trade), the Jets may not be in position to go after the top names. But they could have an intriguing option in former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. Jackson is an electric dual threat who has passed for 7,032 yards and rushed for 3,014 in two seasons. He improved as a passer this past season, staying in the pocket and going through his progressions. He still has a way to go to truly become a polished passer, but offensive coordinator John Morton could use Jackson’s dynamic skill set and adapt his scheme to maximize Jackson’s strengths while minimizing the parts of his game that still need work.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
No team allowed more yards per game through the air than Tampa Bay (260.6). Vernon Hargreaves, the Bucs’ 2016 first-round pick, is a good long-term option, but Brent Grimes is set to hit free agency and will turn 35 in July. Minkah Fitzpatrick was listed as a strong safety on Alabama’s depth chart, but he played all over the Crimson Tide’s secondary and even saw some time at linebacker. He’s excellent in both coverage and run support, has an ideal mix of technique and athleticism and can provide an immediate boost at any position.
8. Chicago Bears: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Mitchell Trubisky took his rookie lumps in 12 starts, and it didn’t help that he lost his top two receivers to injury before he even took his first snap. Cameron Meredith is coming off a torn ACL and oft-injured Kevin White has played in a grand total of five games since being taken seventh overall in 2015. Courtland Sutton hasn’t gotten the same kind of attention as the other top receivers in this class, but he has great size (6-4, 215), which he uses to outmuscle defenders at the catch point. He still needs to refine his route running, but he could be a useful target for Trubisky for years to come.
T-9. San Francisco 49ers: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
The 49ers seem to have found their quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. Now it’s time to build the offense around — and in front of — him. They allowed 43 sacks, tied for 10th most, and right guard Brandon Fusco is slated for free agency. Quenton Nelson is the best offensive line prospect in this class. He has ideal size at 6-5, 330 pounds and is dominant in run blocking and pass protection. He can play either guard spot, giving San Francisco a replacement for Fusco or an upgrade over left guard Laken Tomlinson.
T-9. Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
NaVorro Bowman has been a steadying presence in the middle of Oakland’s defense, but he is set to hit free agency after joining the team on a one-year deal in October. If he leaves, the Raiders will be hard-pressed to find someone with his ability. Roquan Smith was the leader of Georgia’s defense and is the best off-ball linebacker in this class. He’s a do-it-all player with excellent sideline-to-sideline range, instincts, power and tackling ability. He could be a downhill force in the Raiders’ defense.
11. Miami Dolphins: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
The Dolphins spent their first-round pick on offensive tackles in 2014 (Ja’Wuan James) and 2016 (Laremy Tunsil), but they still could use reinforcements, especially at guard. Connor Williams missed most of his junior season with a sprained MCL and PCL, but he was impressive in his sophomore season and is solid against the pass and the run. Williams could start at left tackle and move Tunsil back inside to guard, where he played his rookie season.
12. Cincinnati Bengals: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
In 2015, the Bengals took offensive tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher with their first two picks. Ogbuehi has been a major disappointment, while Fisher is coming off surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat. While Fisher is expected to return to anchor the right side of the Bengals’ line, they’ll need to find an upgrade over Ogbuehi. Orlando Brown is the son of Orlando “Zeus” Brown, the late former Browns and Ravens offensive lineman. Just like his dad, Brown is a mammoth 6-8, 345 pounds. He’s a better run blocker than pass protector, but he could play either tackle spot.
13. Washington Redskins: Derwin James, S, Florida State
This pick will depend on what Washington decides to do with Kirk Cousins in free agency — if they let him walk, quarterback instantly becomes the team’s top need. However, the Redskins do have other needs, and while safety isn’t a major problem, they could use an impact player deep in the secondary. Derwin James is just that. He’s similar to former Seminole Jalen Ramsey in terms of versatility — both played all over Florida State’s secondary, including cornerback, safety and up in the box as a linebacker. James looks to be fully healed from a torn meniscus that cost him almost all of his 2016 season, and his athleticism could be a huge boost for Washington’s secondary.
14. Green Bay Packers: Arden Key, Edge rusher, LSU
The Packers have a pair of aging pass rushers in Clay Matthews (who will turn 32 in May) and Ahmad Brooks (34 in March). The Packers can save $11.4 million against the cap by cutting Matthews, but even if they keep him, they’ll need to inject some youth at outside linebacker. Arden Key played linebacker in 2017 but has the size (6-6, 265) to play defensive end. Key has immense talent, highlighted by explosiveness off the snap and speed around the edge. However, scouts will look at his off-field history — he wasn’t with the team during spring practice last season for personal reasons.
15. Arizona Cardinals: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Carson Palmer retired and both Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert are set for free agency, leaving the Cardinals with zero quarterbacks on their active roster. Even if one or both of their backups return, they’ll need to find their franchise QB. Josh Allen has ideal measurables for a quarterback — he’s big (6-5, 240) with a strong arm and athleticism. He’s very raw, however, and struggled mightily against Power Five schools (50.0 completion percentage, one touchdown, eight interceptions in three career games) and owns just a career 56.2 completion percentage (though he didn’t have the best supporting cast). Luckily, he wouldn’t have to start right away and could learn behind Palmer for a season.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
The Ravens desperately need more receiving options for Joe Flacco — 2015 first-rounder Breshad Perriman has disappointed in the few times he has stayed healthy, while pending free agent Mike Wallace will turn 32 in August. Ozzie Newsome seems to have an affinity for Alabama players — he has taken four out in the last six years, including two last year and two in the first round (2014, 2017). Calvin Ridley has been a solid pass catcher since arriving at Alabama. He has great speed, runs very clean routes and brings in the ball with soft hands. His main concern, however, may be his age. He turned 23 in December — an advanced age for a college junior — so he’ll have to show he hasn’t hit his peak.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
The Chargers had the NFL’s second-worst rush defense, allowing 131.1 yards per game. Corey Liuget hasn’t quite lived up to his contract extension, and Brandon Mebane turns 33 in January, so Los Angeles could eye some help at defensive tackle. Vita Vea could be the pick. He’s the top run-stopping tackle in this class, thanks to his 6-5, 332-pound frame and great strength. He could be a much-needed brick wall in run defense while also eating up blockers and freeing up Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram in passing situations. If any of the top quarterbacks fall this far, the Chargers could decide to draft one to plan for life after Philip Rivers.
18. Seattle Seahawks: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Quick, name the Seahawks’ leader in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in 2017. If you said Russell Wilson (586 yards, three TDs), congratulations, you win! Unfortunately for the Seahawks, that just shows how poor the running back position was — only two backs (Chris Carson, Mike Davis) ran for more than 200 yards, and they played four and six games, respectively. Derrius Guice could be the answer. The 5-11, 218-pounder runs with excellent balance and a great mix of power, speed and agility, and he can make defenders miss in the open field.
19. Dallas Cowboys: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Dez Bryant isn’t quite the game breaker he once was. Part of it is age (he turned 29 in November), but part of it is the lack of a second option at receiver. No matter what the Cowboys decide to do with Bryant (he counts $16.5 million against the cap but can be cut with a post-June 1 designation for a $12.5-million savings), they’ll need pass-catching options for Dak Prescott. James Washington, an Oklahoma State product like Bryant, is a big-play receiver who can open things up as a deep threat. He’s explosive off the snap and was very productive, averaging 19.8 yards on 226 career catches, though he did benefit from playing with future NFL quarterback Mason Rudolph in a wide-open offense. Still, he’d be a great complement to the physical Bryant and a useful downfield target for Prescott.
20. Detroit Lions: Harold Landry, Edge rusher, Boston College
Ziggy Ansah, who had 12 sacks, is set to hit free agency. Even if the Lions bring back their Pro Bowl defensive end, they’ll need to find more pass-rushing help. Only Anthony Zettel (6 1/2) had more than five sacks. Harold Landry was a very disruptive player at Boston College, and that helped him set the single-season school record for sacks in 2016 (16 1/2). Landry is quick off the snap and bends the edge very well when getting after the quarterback. He battled an ankle injury at the end of his senior season that kept his stats down, but when healthy, he was a productive force for the Eagles.
21. Bills: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Depending on what happens with Tyrod Taylor, the Bills may really need a quarterback, but it’s that they’ll get one without trading away both of their first-rounders this year to move up. Instead, they could address a run defense that allowed the fourth-most yards per game (124.6). Add in the midseason trade of Marcell Dareus and soon-to-be 35-year-old Kyle Williams’ impending free agency, and Maurice Hurst could be the pick. Hurst is a little on the smaller side at 6-2, 282 pounds, but his style of play is very reminiscent of Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins, two other undersized pass-rushing defensive tackles. He has an excellent first step off the ball and explodes into the backfield. He could slot in at three-technique tackle
alongside one-technique Adolphus Washington.
22. Bills (via Kansas City Chiefs): Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Assuming they hold onto the pick and don’t decide to move up for a quarterback, head coach Sean McDermott could use this pick to bolster his team’s front seven. Preston Brown and Ramon Humber will be free agents, so they may need another linebacker. Malik Jefferson has a great mix of size (6-3, 240) and athleticism, and he can play outside or inside. He still could use some development, particularly when diagnosing plays and taking on blockers, but the defensive-minded McDermott could help tap into his great upside.
23. Los Angeles Rams: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
The Rams didn’t have many glaring weaknesses this season, but a few looming free agencies could change that. They may need to replace starters at wide receiver (Sammy Watkins), cornerback (Trumaine Johnson) and safety (Lamarcus Joyner). Even if Johnson returns, they could use more cornerback help, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them address that position early. Josh Jackson may be the best pure cornerback in this class. The 6-1, 192-pounder has a nose for the ball when it’s in the air, hauling in an FBS-best eight interceptions last season to go with 18 passes defensed. He’s still a little raw technique-wise, having only started one season for the Hawkeyes, but he has the kind of upside that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips could mold.
24. Carolina Panthers: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
The Panthers could use more receiving help opposite Devin Funchess, especially after trading Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo in a midseason deal. Last year’s offensive skill-position picks prioritized speed and elusiveness over size and strength, so that trend could continue this year. Christian Kirk (5-11, 200) is an explosive pass-catcher with the speed to take the top off of a defense and the quickness to make defenders miss in space. His play style is very reminiscent of another smaller former SEC wide receiver: Odell Beckham Jr.
25. Tennessee Titans: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
The Titans drafted a cornerback in the first round last season in Adoree’ Jackson, but they still need help after allowing the eighth-most yards per game through the air (239.3). Denzel Ward is the latest Buckeye defensive back to be considered a first-round talent — five have gone in the first 32 picks in the past four seasons, including three last year. Ward had 15 pass break-ups in 2017 and hauled in two interceptions. He plays bigger than his size (5-10, 191 pounds) and has excellent speed and technique.
26. Atlanta Falcons: Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford
Dontari Poe is set to hit free agency after signing a one-year deal with Atlanta. Harrison Phillips is a tough run defender who can play tackle or end. The 6-4, 295-pounder isn’t the biggest defensive lineman, but he’s a former Nebraska state wrestling champion, and it shows in the way he powers off the snap. He could slot in alongside Grady Jarrett and add to a Falcons front that emphasizes versatility. He could slot in at three-technique tackle and move the versatile Grady Jarrett to one-technique.
27. New Orleans Saints: Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
The Saints are loaded on offense with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara at running back, a quarterback in Drew Brees who doesn’t appear to be slowing down with age and a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Michael Thomas. But ever since they traded Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, they have lacked an impact tight end who can create mismatches. Mark Andrews can do that. The 6-5, 254-pounder can line up in-line or in the slot, is big enough to be a red-zone target and has the speed and agility to do damage after the catch.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Even before Ryan Shazier’s likely career-ending spine injury, the Steelers needed more athleticism in the heart of their defense. Now, an inside linebacker becomes their top priority. Rashaan Evans started his Alabama career as a pass-rusher before sliding inside to take over for Reuben Foster, who was a 49ers first-rounder last year. Evans has the speed to get from sideline to sideline in coverage as well as to get after the quarterback. He’s also tough and physical enough downhill to stop the run.
Note: The remaining picks will be determined by playoff results. The tie for the ninth overall pick will be broken via coin flip at the NFL Combine.